3 Useful Lighting Techniques for Wedding Photography

by June Jiang | June 8, 2013

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It’s wedding season, which means plenty of brides-to-be will soon walk down the aisle. It also means that plenty of vendors related to weddings, such as wedding photographers and wedding invitation printing services, are making preparations to ensure that their part of the big day goes off without a hitch.

One thing photographers will be focusing on is the efficacy of available lighting, because this is make-or-break for good photos. How to effectively use available light and artificial light in wedding day photography is a broad topic that I cannot possibly cover in one article. In order to give photographers something quick to grasp, I will illustrate three useful and effective indoor lighting techniques.

Lighting conditions at indoor venues are usually not ideal for any kind of serious wedding photography. Depending on the architecture, style, and time of the day, there may not be any sunlight to rely on. Therefore, learning the skills on how to assess the light and quickly setup strobes become critical.

An experienced professional wedding photographer will be able to assess and manipulate various light sources to his or her advantage. Examples of such light sources include window light, string light, ceiling light, candle light, disco strobe light, lamp light, and of course, your portable flash units. Let’s take a closer look at these light sources and understand ways of incorporating them in your final image.

Technique #1 – Bridal Portrait by the Window

Wedding Photography Tips Window LightingThis is a standard portrait that’s easy to do if you can find a large window with soft ambient light. Usually the ambient light will perfectly light one side of the face, although the other side will appear too dark if not using any fill light. Using a white reflector to reduce the shadow can be very effective. However, to increase the quality of the light, we can set up a flash about 45 degrees in front of the bride. I often set the flash to manual mode and simply adjust flash output or its distance to the bride. This creates a more life-like portrait than using ambient light alone.

Technique #2 – Indoor Formal Portrait, Bride Only or Group

Wedding Photography Tip Indoor LightingThere may be some nice spots at the indoor venue that’s good for formal portraits because there is the perfect amount of ambient light. I would setup three flash units, which are all wirelessly controlled by my radio triggers. As in the sample picture, my main light is on a stand about 45 degrees in front of the bride, shooting through a white umbrella. My accent light is set 1/4 of the main light output, and placed in front of the bride at about two feet, pointing downwards towards the ground at a gold reflector. This will create a warm tone to the portrait, portraying a happier mood for the occasion. The third light can be set 1/2 of the main light output, and pointing at the back wall to separate the background from the main subject. Please note the sample photo was done without the background light.

Technique #3 – Backlit Still or Moving Moments

Wedding Photography Tips Backlit LightingTo achieve a fun and moody result in a very dark environment, I often use backlit effect where the outline of the main subjects are highlighted by the strobe light against a dark background. I usually use this technique during the couple’s first dance. I set up two or three flash units, depending on how dark the environment is. My main light is at a 45 degree angle in front of the couple, and my second light is set behind the couple at their waist level. In the sample photo, I also used red silk fabric to modify the color of the flash to give it a warm tone. A third flash can be setup if the main light coverage is not wide enough. All the strobes are controlled wirelessly by radio triggers. Remember to always test the result with your assistant to make sure the desired effect is achieved. Again, I use manual mode for the flash units, simply because I have trouble with TTL mode in a very dark setting. Make sure to pay attention to the big difference in color temperature between the dark environment and your flash output, which will give unwanted tint to your images. Therefore, it is important that your white balance on the camera is set correctly, and you have proper colored gels on your flash to adjust the color temperature.

Hope you learned a few things from me. Until my next write-up, have fun trying out some of these lighting techniques.

What other useful lighting techniques do you use at a wedding?

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